By Stephen Wilson

Middle schoolers are just that—in the middle, between two worlds as their bodies change, minds develop, and attitudes take hold. It’s the perfect moment to help them set their sights higher.

Aspirations are what define LafKids Connect, a new middle school program developed by Adam Finkelstein ’20, operated by students under the Landis Center for Community Engagement, and recipient of a gift from Thomas R. ’67 and Sharon L. Smith.

For the past few years, Landis Center has made significant inroads with Easton Area School District, focusing on connecting classrooms between Lafayette faculty and elementary school teachers for shared lessons, student engagement, and campus visits. That program, in addition to America Reads and several after-school programs at various community centers, has the campus involved in the lives of young people in Easton.

Thomas and Sharon Smith stand with Landis leaders Chelsea Cefalu and Art Kney with Landis logo in backdrop

Chelsea Cefalu, associate director of the Landis Center, Thomas and Sharon Smith, Art Kney, director of the Landis Center (left-right).

LafKid Connect opened the door to a deeper relationship with the district.

The program grew out of a social entrepreneurship class taught by the Dyer Center’s inaugural Entrepreneur in Residence, Marty Johnson. Finkelstein noticed a gap that could be filled by a new program, one designed to help area children through college mentorships and exploration.

No stranger to developing new ideas, Finkelstein had already developed a program at a local elementary school designed for rising middle schoolers who were in need of extra help.  

LafKid Connect works with nearly 100 students who come from elementary schools where children face greater barriers to success. Those students are partnered with 24 Lafayette student mentors who bring connection, academic support, and fun. That fun is amplified when students then visit campus groups for an activity like theater exercises with the Marquis Players or STEM projects with Engineers Without Borders. Some other groups include Women Engineers, Math Club, Newman Association, Music Appreciation Floor, Pre-Dental Society, National Society of Black Engineers, and Geology Club.

“Local students can explore our campus and their interests by participating with various clubs, departments, teams, and organizations,” says Chelsea Cefalu, associate director of Landis Center for Community Engagement. “The Gateway Career Center staff led a fantastic activity about jobs.”

Whether staff or faculty, the entire campus brings strengths to the table.

“Faculty enrich every activity they are involved in with programs like this,” says Art Kney, professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of Landis Center for Community Engagement. “They help our students better deliver content through their expertise in subject matters and teaching.”

The combination of activities and mentorship helps in many ways, but the program goals are clear: career readiness and college preparation.

This is where the gift from the Smith family is so important.

“It will help us to enhance every aspect of the program,” says Kney.

Funding will help support field trips so students can visit Lafayette but also a state college, technical college, and community college. The program also will have a kid-oriented career fair to help build workforce skills. Operational costs are covered with supplies, student wages, and transportation.

“We had been thinking about financially supporting Lafayette more significantly for some time and wanted to find a project that would improve the connection between the College, City of Easton, and Easton Area School District,” says Tom Smith.

“I had a career as a public school special education teacher, private tutor, and volunteer teacher in a private school for economically disadvantaged middle schoolers in the City of Boston,” says Sharon Smith. 

“Although a practicing lawyer, I also developed an interest in education and earned a master’s degree at Johns Hopkins University, taught graduate students at Fairfield University, and  lectured and trained managers, executives, and professionals on various legal topics,” he says. 

“We are both very excited about the educational opportunities for Easton middle school students through their exposure to a variety of Lafayette people, events, projects, and programs.”

Sharon Smith also will bring her talents to the campus and lead some training sessions on good listening, skillful teaching, and problem-solving tools useful in an education environment. 

“I am eager to see how Lafayette students help the middle school students develop an appetite for learning,” she says. 

LafKid Connect is student-led with Camille Carthy ’23 and Samantha Riebesell ’23 working as co-organizers for the academic year. They will help to move the program from its virtual life over the last few years to the robust vision that Finkelstein laid out and the Smith family believes in.

Landis Center for Community Engagement

Engaged Scholarship, Civic Leadership, Social Advocacy

The Landis Center for Community Engagement serves as the primary resource for community-based learning and research activities at Lafayette College by facilitating partnerships between the campus and Easton communities

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1 Comment

  1. Jash K. Patel says:

    I am glad to see how LafKid Connect helps the community. I want to volunteer to if I get accepted to Lafayette.

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